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Kuldhara, near Jaisalmer, was abandoned about two centuries ago. Legend has it that it is cursed and haunted by spirits. In a welcome move, the Rajasthan tourism department is reviving and developing it into a tourist attraction

By Prakash Bhandari in Jaipur


The Rajasthan government has ta-ken the lead in developing a ghost town (or should we say village) into a tourist attraction. Kuldhara, currently abandoned and in ruins, is located 17 kilometers from Jai-salmer, home to Sonar Kella, the historic fort that attracts thousands of tourists every winter. It is now being restored and the state government has started the process of conservation. In the first phase, some havelis and a temple are being brought back to their lost glory using the same technique and raw materials used by the original builders.

“We have decided to restore the glory of Kuldhara. In the first phase, 4 crore has been earmarked.  The idea is to encourage tourists to extend their stay in Jaisalmer…” 

BY – Shailendra Agarwal, principal secretary, tourism and archaeology, Rajasthan

The state government is serious about the restoration project. Shailendra Agarwal, principal secretary, tourism and archaeology, said: “Kuldhara has a story to tell and a look at the ancient village would give the visitor an impression that once it was a prosperous place. We have decided to restore the glory of this village and in the first phase, `4 crore has been earmarked to restore some of the historic havelis. The idea is to encourage tourists to extend their stay in Jaisalmer so that apart from the famed fort and the sand dunes, they will also be able to see Kuldhara.”

BAD TIMES
Till some two centuries ago, Kuldhara, in the thick of the Thar Desert, was a thriving center of trade that connected the Sindh province (in undivided India) with the rest of the country. That was till it fell upon bad times. Legend has it that the then Kuldhara chieftain, a Rajput Paliwal Brahmin, had a stunningly beautiful 18-year-old daughter who caught the fancy of the debauched dewan of Jaisalmer, Salam Singh. Word was sent to the village chieftain that he wanted to marry his daughter.

Salam Singh was so keen to marry the girl that he also held out a threat—if the girl’s father did not agree to the alliance, the village would regret it. Upon hearing this, the elders of Kuldhara and 84 surrounding villages held a council. By then, Singh in a fit of revenge, im-posed heavy taxes on Kuldhara which the villagers found difficult to pay. But instead of submitting to Singh’s demands, one night the villagers abandoned the village as well as their ancestral homes.

Before leaving, they put a curse on Kuldhara —anyone who settles there would come to grave harm. Ever since, the village has remained deserted. It is believed that a few families who later tried to settle down there were driven away by strange paranormal sightings and happenings attributed to spirits and ghosts.
Luckily, Kuldhara has been declared as a protected village by the Archaeological Survey of India. Today what remains are rows of deserted houses, some in a state of utter disrepair. There is a temple, though it has no deity. The landscape is dry and desert-like and Kuldhara blends into the landscape and wears a desolate, forlorn look of a town or village that has been abandoned.

HAUNTED VILLAGE?
Recently, a team from the Paranormal Society of Delhi visited the village after hearing stories about it. Equipped with electronic equipment, it scanned the entire village and encountered strange happenings. From moving shadows and haunting voices to hand imprints of children on cars, the team members lived through one of their scariest nights while they were there. However, the team could not concretely detect any supernatural phenomenon in Kul-dhara. Perhaps the alien desert environment was playing tricks on their mind.

A team of geologists from the Indian National Science Academy, including famous geologist Professor AB Rai of Udaipur’s ML Sukhadia University, presently working at Kul-dhara, provided a more rational clue to the mystery. It discovered that the region was located on an active earthquake faultline. The geologists believe that a natural calamity or the fear of one must have forced the villagers to abandon their village in 1824-1825. Their conclusion is that the story of the Paliwal Brahmins abandoning the village overnight might have nothing to do with the conduct of Singh.

Exploring myths? A team of archaeologists inspecting Kuldhara.
Exploring myths? A team of archaeologists inspecting Kuldhara.

However, there is no record of the village being abandoned overnight because of some impending natural calamity on the day of Raksha Bandhan, two centuries ago.

Rai said: “The evidence of destruction is visible in each and every house in this village and surrounding villages. It reminds one of the devastation seen in the remains of the Harappan cities like Mohenjo Daro and Lothal, which cannot be linked to the normal processes of weathering and erosion. Pictures of collapsed walls, scattered dressed stones, fallen joists and pillars lying strewn all over rooms in the houses speak of damage and destruction not generally witnessed in unoccupied old houses standing for hundred years or more.” He adds that if the ASI digs here, more facts would come to light.

Professor Harsh, another member of the team from Banaras Hindu University, further elaborated: “The day the Paliwals migrated was a full moon night, which is when most earthquakes occur. There is a possibility that on that day, a severe earthquake might have struck because of which waters in rivers, ponds and wells may have drained, forcing Paliwals to migrate from Kuldhara.” He explained that the faultline ran through several other Paliwal dominated villages in the region.

Now that Kuldhara will be restored and promoted into a tourist attraction, real stories hidden beneath its ruins will surface. Perhaps there is a history that needs to be discovered which will be enlightening as well as fascinating. If all goes according to plan, then those visiting Jaisalmer will hopefully have another must see destination in a year or two.

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